As you may recall, Alternative Search Engine (ASE) AfterVote (AV) was the Search Engine of the Month in April (posted May 01, 2007). AfterVote is run by three guys who also have days jobs; and no VC funding. I presented it is a good example of just how much innovation is possible in these alternative search engines. Well, since that story, AfterVote has continued to add features to their product, and they gave me a sneak peek at what they will be rolling out soon.

Friends and groups; create your own social network

This new feature, known as friends and groups, allows users to select who influences their results.

Other "Top 100" social search engines that have this type of ability are Collarity, with their "Collarity Compass" that shifts between personal, community, and global search results. Searchles and Sproose are also good examples. With the AV system, they have caught up to these competitors by moving from a more generic "thumbs up" or down to this personal/friends/groups filtering ability.

Commenting and visual indicators for friends/groups activity

AV will also have a system for adding details to the search results; via commenting, personal messages, reputation and more. Also, if your friends or the groups that you participate in consistently enhance the search experience with good results, good comments, and most importantly, less spam, it can enhance your Adsense revenue (discussed later).

AfterVote's unique User Interface

This is what led me to select AfterVote as Search Engine of the Month last month. Instead of having an overly simplistic search box with the standard Google-like Preferences or Advanced Search links, or, at the other end of the spectrum, a bewildering array of features and commands that would take a week just to figure out, AV came up with an Interface that asks the User to chose for herself the level of search expertise that she has. So before searching, the user can chose one of three skill levels, and of course, can easily change the level at any time.

Feature overload: Are more features always a good thing?

One concern that I have is that in the rush to add feature after feature, is that this clever concept may get lost in the shuffle. AV should keep to the original plan, and see that all of their features are gradually exposed to the user so that the beginning user is not overwhelmed, and the advanced searcher is not bored. GoLexa is an interesting example of features gone wild; each GoLexa search result has no less than 40 elements!

GoLexa

A Search Engine that teaches you how to search?

One very exiting innovation that I remember discussing with Dan Saltman of AV is a process whereby the user would not just select from three levels of expertise, but the engine would be programed to ask the user if they would like to activate the next button. After a certain number of times searching with this button turned on, they would be prompted for the net one, an so on. After "X" number of elements were mastered, the user would receive a congratulatory message promoting them to the next level.

A few odds & ends: miscellaneous features

Just quickly. they also completely reworked the design for their settings panel:

And there is also a new framing ability, which you can turn on or off, which will allow you to see the results on the page as you view it, via a small frame.

Revenue sharing. The more you search - the more you make!

Finally, AfterVote has incorporated their own version of revenue sharing into the search process. In a future post, we will look at the relatively new category of Charity (or "charitable") Search Engines that donate a portion of their ad revenues to charity. With revenue sharing plans, you register with your own Google Adsense account (you need to have one first, of course!). Then the Adsense program credits your account every time someone clicks on your ad. With AV, the more times that you search on their site, the more times your ad will appear, potentially earning you more money. Usually the site owner will take a cut of the revenue; AV credits you with 100%; they take nothing. A noble, if not lucrative policy!

In Conclusion: a search engine with spunk

I enjoy following the exploits of AfterVote because of the pace and flexibility of their innovation. For creating this system in their "spare time," they have a non-stop attitude for trying out new features and experimenting with new concepts. This is one group where you can send in a suggestion to them one day, and see it on their site a week later. I don't think you'd have the same results with the major search engines! Someone once compared ASE to speedboats, and major search engines to cruise ships. When it comes to maneuverability, the speedboat wins every time.

A final word of caution

As for social search, AfterVote has a tough road ahead of it, with giants like Eurekster and the new Yahoo Alpha engine having a large market share. The main issues that all these alt engines have to face is the speed and usability that Google and Yahoo! have pioneered. The more features you add always leads to more slowdown - unless you have the money Google does. Best of luck, AfterVote!